Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Desirable Ornamentation

Frank Lloyd Wright with two of his key associates: Wesley Peters and Eugene Masselink. A set-up shot, but, I enjoy how Wright is holding his pencil as a pointer. Photograph published in House Beautiful, November 1955 (page 242).

Recently, I found these pictures and text in vintage issues of House Beautiful magazine and thought about the balance between twentieth century modernist design, which advocates the elimination of superfluous decoration and how Frank Lloyd Wright considered ornament desirable. Perhaps we can gain insight through this pictorial case history. Featured designers in this piece are Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. Eugene Masselink, who after Wright’s death, was affiliated with Taliesin Associated Architects.

Wright’s skill with ornament shows best when he had the chance to elaborate the minor and less significant details of a house into a rich brocade of design. [The rug shown above] is a fine example. Wright designed this rug for one of his houses, which was based on the house’s circular floor plan. As result the rug design motif emphasizes the circle and portions of circles—not only vertically and horizontally but also in the third dimension. So the rug simply makes the structural pattern visibly apparent in yet another way.

Notice how, even though design is complex, it still “lies flat.” There is no circle lying on top of another—as solids—which would make you feel you might trip or stumble. They intersect, but do not overlap. Notice how circles finally curl around concrete.

A utilitarian feature, a folding screen (designed and painted by Masselink), is lifted above mere satisfaction of a need by its pattern of color and gold leaf. Note how the design is agreeably related to the rectangular character of the structure and to the scale of the brickwork and to the rug beyond it…. Rug and screen are ornamental features, which strengthen the quality and character of the house.

The ever-changing play of light and color in this mural executed for a house planned by Charles Montooth, architect with Taliesin Associates, and is a constant source of delight. It derives from the forms and colors of bougainvillea and also from the circular floor plan of the house. Even the horizontal joints of the concrete blocks are controlling guides. Mr. Masselink has, with clear and colored glass and gold leaf, accomplished a work, which echoes the materials and the curved structure of the house. At the same time it is also in harmony with the natural forms of the foliage with which it is seen in relationship. The mural points up and compliments the happy merger between nature and architecture…. Notice how the mural extending through the glass wall and into the court.
Copy taken from House Beautiful, “Wright Considered Ornament Desirable”, October 1959 by Elizabeth Gordon (pages 246-249).

The quality of change in the mural (designed and painted by Masselink) results from the warm nature of its basic material; the background is cypress wood. To this have been applied areas of gold leaf, spattered gold, brushed and sprayed-on colors. The theme is based on the flora and fauna of the building's site in Florida.

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